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BYU vs San Francisco Preview: BYU Opens as 3-Point Underdog

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 25 BYU at San Francisco Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

BYU has one of its biggest games of the year when they travel to the Bay Area Saturday for a showdown versus 15-2 San Francisco. The game tips off at 8pm PT on CBS Sports Network.

Initial lines for the game opened with BYU as a 3-point underdog. KenPom predicts a 73-70 score if favor of USF and gives the Dons a 58% chance to win. This is the third time this season BYU has been a betting underdog — they beat Oregon by 32 and lost to Gonzaga by 26 the prior two times.

USF is one of the top teams out west this season and is projected squarely in the NCAA Tournament. They are ranked 31 in NET, making this safely a Quad One game for BYU (road games versus top 75 teams are Quad One). BYU leads the nation in Quad Two wins with six — which is why they are comfortably projected in the field of 68 in the moment — but are 0-1 in Quad One games, with the lone chance happening Thursday night at Gonzaga. A loss wouldn’t hurt BYU per se, but the winner will have a leg up in the race for the second best team in the WCC and a Quad One victory.

San Francisco will challenge BYU with good guard play, size, and shooting. The Dons love to shoot the three ball, and they make a lot of them. They are 69th nationally in 3-point percentage, and 37.6% of their points come from behind the arc, which is 45th nationally. Guard Jamaree Bouyea is one of the best players in the conference and leads the Dons with 17.8 ppg. His backcourt mate Khalil Shabazz averages 12.5 ppg and has given BYU fits in the past.

San Francisco’s size differentiates them from past years. They start 6-foot-10 Duke transfer Patrick Tape and 6-foot-9 San Diego transfer Yauhen Massalski in the frountcourt, and they have three guys 6-foot-8 or 6-foot-9 who they regularly bring off the bench. Massalski is the only one of the bunch that averages over 7 points, and he is second on the team averaging 14 ppg.

BYU didn’t defend the three-ball well versus Gonzaga in the first half, but they generally have been good there this year — BYU is 17th nationally in 3-point defense. One of BYU’s main focuses will be limiting USF’s three-point looks. Bouyea and Shabazz can break down a defense and find open shooters, so BYU’s guards will need to be stout on them to limit help coming each time those guys drive.

Both backcourts are pretty even and USF has more size inside, but BYU has an advantage with perimeter length and athleticism, much like BYU did versus Saint Mary’s. USF’s wings are largely shooters, so Gideon George and Seneca Knight will have to use their length and athleticism to their advantage on both ends. I suspect Pope will get Seneca and Gideon one-on-one looks within 15 feet of the basket, something he did in BYU’s win versus Saint Mary’s. Caleb Lohner had his best game versus Gonzaga, scoring 17 points and knocking down two threes, and if he has a similar game I think BYU will win this one.

BYU’s loss to Gonzaga was expected and a loss to USF wouldn’t crush BYU’s tourney hopes by any means, but a victory would give BYU a lot of margin of error and their first Quad One win of the season.

USF by the Numbers:

Record: 15-2

NET Ranking: 31

KenPom Ranking: 34

Best Wins: Davidson, Nevada, UAB, Arizona State

Losses: Grand Canyon, Loyola-Chicago